A CRACKDOWN on County Lines gangs saw the arrests of 25 people, thousands of pounds worth of drugs seized and more than £20,000 in cash recovered after police raided properties in Swindon.
Wiltshire Police managed to close down 15 County Lines thanks to two weeks of activity between October 4-15.
Teams carried out raids on several properties in Swindon, arresting 21 men and four women aged between 17 and 54 years old on suspicion of drug dealing.
And 14 of them have now been charged.
A total £21,770 in cash and several weapons including a machete and a knife were seized, as well as approximately 500 wraps of heroin and cocaine and assets including a Breitling Watch.
Officers from the Wiltshire Force’s Fortitude Team were supported by officers and staff from the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit, Wiltshire Police’s Drone Unit, the National Crime Agency and Community Policing Teams based in Swindon.
The Adver went with officers as they carried out two warrants in Longstock Court and St Marys Grove.
The 7am raids took place last week to disrupt a County Line which had London links, according to the head of the operation DI Megan Kenzie.
Drugs were found at both properties including a “fist-size” packet which was believed to contain crack cocaine.
DI Kenzie said it had been a successful operation, adding: “It’s been about tackling those higher in the hierarchy.
“We had a gentleman in one address, we found the phone that he had been using to run the line that matched up with our information that we’ve got on our computer system.
“At the other address, we had quite a large packet, probably fist size. That was very securely wrapped with clingfilm. We can tell there’s drugs inside that are individually wrapped.
“We believe it is crack. There was preparation tools, there were gloves found there, clingfilm, the bags that have been ripped and torn to wrap the individual 10 bags that they used to deal on the streets. So, it clearly was where they prepared the drugs and then give out to other people.
“We believe that all the drugs were being stored, cut, bagged, and then distributed to probably the younger children and the people that are vulnerable out there that are only doing it to fund their drug habits.”
She said arresting the line holder on St Marys Grove will massively affect the distribution in Swindon.
“There was a lot of telephone number contained on the phone,” she said.
“If we’ve taken that away, they’ve lost their connection to Swindon. They’ve lost all of those people that were buying drugs from them.
“So, it will take time to build them back again. I hope this is massively going to affect the supply in Swindon. We’ll see, we will gather intelligence from Turning Point colleagues.”
DI Kenzie said the operation had been planned since August, with months of preparation.
She said: “This is a fantastic result targeting and disrupting 15 County Lines in a very short period of time.
“It’s been a good few months of planning to ensure that we’ve had support from the Metropolitan Police, from National Crime agency, from the regional organised crime units and various departments internally.
“It’s been months of planing and still months until we get those people through the court system.”
DI Kenzie took over the Fortitude unit in April. The unit aims to react to intelligence and take action against county lines offenders, prolific offenders and others identified as posing high risk to communities.
She said: “We have been really successful in Swindon at dealing with our county lines.
“I took over Fortitude in April – it was a new job when I got promoted and since then we took out seven County Lines by using the support from Metropolitan Police.
“We were doing one every so often, but I just wanted to do it on a bigger scale.”
Fourteen of those arrested have now been charged in connection with drug dealing, including 13 men and a woman aged between 18 and 44 years old.
DI Kenzie said the community plays a central role when it comes to tackling drug activities in Swindon.
“It comes down to intelligence,” she said. “If there are things that don’t look right, if your own children are out late at night, you don’t know what they’re doing, if they’ve to two phone, things like that, you need to be switched on to, you need to be reporting that to us.
“It might be that small piece of the puzzle, but it would mean that we can act on something, we can offer them support.”
The county’s Police and Crime Commissioner Philip Wilkinson was at the scene, attending his first drugs raid since he was elected.
He said: “I’m extremely conscious that this only part of the problem, arresting a dealer is a significant factor. However, we must address what is happening here in a much more comprehensive fashion.”
He added: “There is real drug problem throughout the country. Swindon has got a problem. It’s on the M4, it’s part of the County Lines at a national level, but those County Lines are reaching deep into our rural communities, into our villages.
“So, we need to address it from the bottom up from the rural end of the problem.”
PCC Wilkinson said tackling drug activities in Swindon and Wiltshire is one of his main priorities.
This County Lines activity falls under Project Optimise – Wiltshire Police’s approach to serious and organised crime.